Thursday, 31 May 2018

Struggling towards Ushant

Between the fog and the darkness I saw very few of the ships shown on the AIS. After Orcades disappeared ahead I only saw one other yacht. Solo Sailor Urro was less than a mile away, but I never even caught a glimpse of her. When it got light and the fog lifted slightly I did see a couple of cargo boats, but they were all well clear of our course. They gave me some idea of the visibility too; I could see for less than 2 miles.

Julian came up to take the watch again at 08:00, and made porridge, which was very welcome, then I headed down for an hour’s sleep before getting up for the day.

As we motor sailed through the morning the fog got thicker again and we were very glad of George on the helm. After Julian’s heroic cooking efforts of last night we decided to be simpler for lunch. Pot noodles have their place in boat cuisine!

By the time we had finished lunch we were less than 10 miles from Ushant, but could see nothing of it . The fog had closed in again, and even Worm’s stern was shrouded in white.

Then things began to go wrong.

The engine stopped. Since we now had a flat calm and were clear of the shipping lanes we had time to work out what had happened. First check, diesel. Both fuel tanks were half full, and the valves were open, so it was not as simple a problem as last time. Out came Nigel Calder’s book on diesel engines, and his diagnostics told us we might have an air bubble in the fuel lines. It took us an hour to bleed the fuel lines since we had never done it before, but once we had the engine started. Hurrah!

Unfortunately while we were just sitting there, on an apparently flat sea, the new tiller pilot fitting Julian had made broke, so George was now out of action. And we would be hand steering the rest of the way in thick fog. (Julian has lost count of the number of times he has fixed that. We need to do something more permanent.)

Once we were under way I went below to log the incident, and saw steam coming out of the engine compartment. The exhaust pipe had come off the anti-syphon box, giving the engine a hot shower. So the engine had to go off again while Julian did up the hose clips to re-fix it. I had lifted the cockpit sole to give him more light, and when the engine went back on I could see the stern gland nut rattling on the drive shaft. 

This is actually our current biggest long-term problem. There is a bit missing and we can't get it fixed without the prop-shaft coming out. We should have had it done in the winter (it's been wrong for ages) and forgot. It is the source of most of the water coming in to the hull now.

So I got down inside and tightened it as much as I could and that took more time.

Another hour had passed while we fixed these problems, and Ushant got no closer. In fact it got further away, as a tidal stream began to push us back north at 2 knots, then 3, then 4. Even with the engine back on we were barely station keeping, creeping forward at under 1 knot and having to be very careful where we aimed. A compass heading of 210° kept us going in the right direction. Any deviation from that had us going backwards, or pointing at the dangerous rocks of the invisible Ushant coast line rather than the west end of the Island where we needed to be.

Despite having only 5 miles to go on our chart plotter track it took another four hours before we got to the moorings at the  head of Lampaul Bay. 

The flat calm ended and a west-south-westerly wind came in which helped us, but best course to windward took us too far south, so I had to keep luffing the main to keep us on course. (We tried tacking, but that just took Robinetta backwards with the tide). Sailing as well as possible with the engine on saw us doing first 1, then 1½ knots in the right direction. Then the speed began to go up as the tide lost its grip.

As the speed rose so did the sea state. Ushant finally appeared through the fog when we were about 2 miles off and we had a nice motor sail for about 15 minutes, swooping iup and down the waves making 4 knots. Then we were doing 5 and I turned the engine off. The speed dropped back to 3 knots but the waves seemed to be getting bigger.

Julian and I just wanted to be in harbour by this point, so we put the engine back on and as our speed increased to 6 knots the wave crests shortened and developed triangular points. The tide that had been fighting us was now helping us recover the ground, but the wind had come in from the opposite direction and now we had wind over tide.

These rapidly became some of the worst overfalls we've been out in and we had some pretty bad ones off the Isle of Man and off Holyhead. There is absolutely nothing on the chart to indicate that they might be there.

We had been surprised by only seeing a few sea birds on our trip so far, and suddenly we knew why. They were all here, flocking to catch the fish that must have been taken there by the tide. I had no time to watch them though, as helming took all my concentration. I could not spare any attention to look at Worm being towed along behind. Julian did, looked worried, and let out some more of the tow rope.

Robinetta excelled herself. We got one big lump of sea swirling into the cockpit, and a couple of splashes over the side, but she rode out the rough sea perfectly.  At six knots we were no longer crawling towards harbour; it felt as though we were racing as we we passed the Phare de Nividic’s strange pylons, then the lighthouse itself and it was time to turn Robinetta’s stern on to the waves. The rollers were still obvious, but the triangular points were 10 cm rather than 100cm , so the waves were less chaotic in the mouth of the bay, making the turn was less traumatic than I feared. We centred the main sail as we turned, so avoided a potential gybe, then surfed into Lampaul Bay on staysail, jib, and engine.

By the time we reached the head of the bay the swell felt very gentle. There were 8 yachts already there, but there were plenty of vacant mooring buoys. We picked one up as close to the harbour as possible to shorten our row ashore, and turned the engine off at 20:30 BST, totally exhausted.

We had made it to France.


From 02:00 to 05:00 we had dense fog. I could hardly see Worm, just the stern light reflecting off her bow. I was very glad to have the radar reflector in the rigging and the AIS.

I decided that the AIS was now a full crew member and should have a name. So now we have George and Mildred.

I was very sleepy and the watch felt shorter than it should have, so I must have dozed off several times. I never saw an AIS target, but I knew Mildred would have woken me if I had needed it.

One noise had been bugging me, especially when off watch. The aft starboard shroud was so loose that its shackles rattled when the port shrouds were tight. With George doing the steering and Mildred on look out and visibility at 2 metres I thought I may as well fix it.

I should have had a life jacket on any way and this was a good reminder, so I got it and a strop and clipped on and retied the dead eyes – not tight as that would be too tight on the other tack, but not floppy. The noise stopped.

Alison came on watch at 05:00. We were 27 nm north of the Nividic lighthouse at the entrance to Lampoul on Ouessant. Things were going well.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Cooking at Sea

I came off watch at 17:00 and started to cook.

We had bought an onion and a garlic bulb on St. Agnes and new potatoes and asparagus in Padstow, so we had the makings of a fine meal.

Down below, the sea state was enough to dislodge everything just left around. I sliced the onion and chopped several cloves of garlic and cut the potatoes to an even size and broke the hard stalks off the asparagus. I put the stove on its gimbals and put the potatoes to boil – I figured I could prep the fish in time to cook the asparagus with the potatoes.


I hadn’t figured in that the fish would need either scaling or skinning. I cut the fish in two, the back half will make another good meal. I worked around the head, pulling the skin towards the head and gently cut off the gill bone (which must have a name!) and head, leaving a piece I could fillet the spine out of to leave two nice steaks,

So I dusted the fish with flour and left them on the chopping board on the port bench while I put the heat under the frying pan with the onion, garlic, butter, olive oil and black pepper. A wave took the fish and shoved it on the floor, but no harm done.

Then it got difficult.

The potatoes were cooked. I moved them to a plate and put the asparagus in the pan, but I wanted to keep the potatoes hot on top of the frying pan so now I had to hold the frying pan and the potato plate (with another plate  on top to keep the potatoes warm) and Robinetta was jumping all over the place.

I managed to get the fish into the frying pan and juggle things but I was getting too hot so now I had to take off some layers while juggling pans!

I swore a lot.

I had proposed that we heave-to to eat. Next time I will insist that we heave-to to cook!
Once heaved to it became peaceful and I could serve up and we could eat in comfort.


The fish was excellent and despite the juggling I managed to get the asparagus right too.

After the stress of cooking I felt a little queasy so I came on deck for a bit and Alison made a cup of tea before we got under way again.

I got my head down until my next watch at 20:00, and Alison let me sleep until 20 past. I was very worried when I took over that I wouldn’t be able to steer for a 3 hour watch – I was very tired. But the sea state calmed down almost immediately and although there was still plenty of wind the sea was smooth enough for George the tiller pilot to take over. This made the watch really easy! At 22:30 the wind began failing, and at 22:42 I put the engine on and furled the jib. Alison came on watch at 23:00, and I went below.

Leaving Scilly

We woke in time for the 07:10 forecast, which it the only one in the day that includes the shipping forecast. We wanted to know what was due in the Plymouth Sea area, as we would be sailing in it right across to the French coast. There was nothing wind wise to worry us, but it did report fog patches, so I was glad we had the AIS unit to tell us where the big ships would be.

We prepared thoroughly (not leaving things to be done until we were under way the way we often do). That included full engine checks, before Julian raised the main and went forward to haul up the anchor.

We had the engine on to warm up, and I suddenly noticed we were getting very close to a yacht called Noah’s Jest that had swung to sit over our anchor. I had to reverse quite hard to clear her, but luckily that brought the anchor clear and we could turn away safely. A minute later we were sailing out of the anchorage and I turned the engine off.

Visibility was not great, only about ½ a mile, but the sea was smooth so George went on duty and I went below to write the log and check the tides. While I was was down the wind died and Julian put the engine back on. I began to get a smell of burning rubber. It turned out I had forgotten to re-open the raw water inlet after checking that its filter was clean. Oops.

We had the AIS turned on, very reassuring in the fog, and noticed another yacht on a very similar course to ours. It was the Orcades, a First 30, whose crew Julian had chatted with at Hugh Town quay. We did not see them at all, and they gradually overhauled us and vanished ahead.

We had been told to watch out for Sunfish, that had a fin a little like a dolphin; said fin would suddenly flop over to one side in a very odd way. I saw two, half an hour apart, but there was no sign of any dolphins or other sea mammals.

By 11:00 the fog had thinned a little, but it stayed thick enough that I saw none of of the shipping showing up on the AIS. The wind came up as the fog lifted and we had enough wind at sail at a respectable 3½ knots, so off went the engine as we set off best course to windward. Julian made some great bacon and tomato sandwiches for lunch, and I began to think we were in for a good day’s sailing.

The wind died away, came back, strengthened enough for a reef, then back to a nice force 3 so the reef came out, all between 13:00 and 14:00. Then it began to rain steadily, but not especially heavily, just enough to keep the off watch below.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Day in the Scillies

Tuesday morning was not such a glorious day as Monday had been but we thought it looked fine for exploring the Scillies by sea. I thought we could come out of the southern end of Old Grimsby Sound into St Mary's Roads and head west for the Bishop Rock light-house and then make our way back to St Mary's for fish and chips and be in the right place to head for Ushant.
Tresco and St Helens and the other islands nearby used to be joined on to St Marys until the sea level rose and it is still very shallow so we needed to be away before about 10:30 to be sure of getting over the bar. It all worked fine and we turned into the Roads and headed west.
But visibility was really poor and we realised that we would be looking at sea all around and then have to beat back. We would be getting enough horizon tomorrow so we cut short our westward journey and went through the sound between St Agnes and Annet. We saw some people sea kayaking with a rod out and that made me want to copy them.

Our new mackerel line could do with christening. We were going too fast for it to work by the book and there weren't any gannets diving but it was worth a try. 

Both St Agnes and Annet have spectacular scenery and we didn't pay much attention to the line. It was made off on the starboard pin-rail for most of the trip between the islands and it wasn't until we turned to round the bottom of St Agnes that I tried to pull it back in. It was really heavy - we must have caught something. Then we saw a large fish fighting on the end of the line. I was worried the line would break - we didn't want an injured fish and a load of plastic line in the water. It held but I could only haul it in by rolling it around the short boat hook so we ended up with a big mess of line. We got the fish in - a fine pollock. The shop in Padstow had said pollock would take the same bait as mackerel. The end of the line with the sinker and four of the hooks was missing. I hope we didn't cause another fish distress. I dispatched the fine fish we had caught and put it in a bucket down below. We would each get two good meals out of a fish that size.

St Agnes has a small harbour on the west side and is joined onto Gugh except at high water springs by a shingle tarbert. The ferrys come into a quay on the north side. We anchored on the south side and I gutted the pollock and then we went ashore in Worm.
There are a couple of roads around St Agnes and the main motorised transport seem to be adapted golf carts. There were a good few yachts anchored with us in the bay.
It's only about 10 minutes walk from the east side to the west side. There are cafes and a souvenir shop and a general store. The latter has very much the feel of a campsite shop and there is an excellent campsite above the harbour on the west side. It is part of the Troytown Farm complex which makes a lovely selection of ice cream using the milk from their own cows.
This stone snowman doesn't seem to mind warm weather.

The harbour has kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and sailing. There were people in kayaks and people on paddle-boards but no-one was sailing. Yesterday we had seen the dinghy sailing school at Old Grimsby out and we had seen gaff-rigged day boats hired out in New Grimsby Sound so people are sailing!

After our ice creams we bought an onion and some garlic in the general to go with the potatoes and asparagus we had bought in Padstow - the fish was going to be good!

Launching Worm off the beach was easy and the weather had turned nice - the morning's haze had cleared. We managed to sail out of the bay but the wind had gone almost to nothing so we motored over to Porth Cressa on St Marys and anchored. There are lots of visitors moorings and lots of yachts. Everyone is anchored and all the buoys are empty.

We rowed to the beach and found fish and chips. There was a chip van and a Thai food van right on the sea wall at Porth Cressa but we wandered round to the main harbour and I chatted to a German crew on a First 30 called Orcades. It had tiller steering on twin rudders - not an arrangement I've seen before.

I fancied the chip van but Alison had seen lots of sand flies on the beach so we ate at the Mermaid.
Alison really enjoyed her burger but I had to send my fish back - it was really thick and they had tried to keep the batter really nice wbich meant the fish was still cold in the middle. They got it right second time. A nice pub with good beer and then someone said 'Julian?'. It was a chap called Rob we had got chatting to in Stornoway. He and his wife Sue and their Southerly were going the other way round. We had a lovely chat over a beer.

I'm going to regret having two pints when we do our long sail to Ushant tomorrow.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Padstow towards Scilly

Sunday afternoon high water was rather late, at 17:05, which meant the flap gate would not open until 15:05 at the earliest. We decided to head out as soon as it opened, so got Robinetta and Worm (and crew) ready to go. We had a good chat with the crew of Sula, a 40’ Sun Odyssey, that was moored beside us. They had visited the Scillies many times, and recommended the moorings at Old Grimsby Sound as the best place to head for from Padstow. We followed their advice when making our passage plans.

Getting the crew ready included a “full Cornish” breakfast, and buying pasties from the Chough Bakery for later, while Worm got a coat of paint on her underside. We filled Robinetta’s water tanks, and paid for her stay. Over 21 days meant a cheap rate, and we were pleasantly surprised at the bill. Having a small boat does keep the costs down!
Getting clear of the Mediterranean style mooring proved easy enough, although the bow line was absolutely filthy after a month of frequent immersion. Once the flap gate went down we had to wait for the Jubilee Queen to enter the harbour to pick up passengers, but once she was clear of the entrance we were free to go.

Once we turned in to the river Camel the wind came from dead astern. We hoisted the staysail and goose-winged it with the no.1 jib to help the engine fight the still flooding tide. Once we were clear of the Doom Bar we turned head to wind in a nearly flat sea, and raised the main sail, then off went the engine as we went onto a lovely broad reach in bright sunshine to clear Trevose Head.

The headland itself looked exceptionally good as we went close in, inside its outlying trail of rocks. The pass between is deep and clear, without too many crab pots, but we did loose speed due to adverse tide. Once past Trevose Head out course took us further off shore, and clouds came to cover the sun. The wind began to die, and with nothing to steer at, and the engine essential, George the tiller pilot came on duty to helm all through the night and into the next morning.
There were fog patches, fishing boats, and adverse tides plus a traffic separation zone to keep us alert, but we also saw dolphins and sea birds. Given it was the hight of the breeding season I was slightly disappointed by the numbers, but I saw several Guillemots and Gannets, plus a lessor Black Back Gull and a couple of cormorants. A pod of common dolphins paid us a flying visit at duck but did not stay long, unlike the hornet who visited earlier in the day and rested on the cabin side for an hour.
 A small “garden” type bird (about wren size, but with a longer slender beak) dropped onto Robinetta for a 5 minute rest near dawn. It might have come from anywhere, but the direction it arrived from suggested Ireland.
The morning’s hazy visibility meant that the Scillies were not obvious until we were only 8 miles off. The sea was pewter grey, but blue sky was visible through cracks in the cloud cover, and gradually the cracks grew and the blue expanded. Eventually the haze thinned, revealing the Scilly Coastline.

We entered Old Grimsby Sound at low water and picked our way past the exposed rocks. At this state of the tide we could see all the hazards marked on the chart plotter, which was reassuring. By 11:30 we were safely moored to one of the 7 visitor mooring buoys just off Old Grimsby Harbour. These are the only visitor buoys in the Scillies that the CA Almanack does not say are charged for, but they are supposedly subject to swell, and in a strong tidal stream. Robinetta was the only boat to use them that night.

I rowed us ashore in Worm, landing on the beach by the Ruin Beach Cafe. Julian and I had to carry her about 200 yards up the gently sloping beach to get her to the high water line where we could safely leave her.

The cafe/bar did us a very good lunch which we ate outside on the veranda which boasted unbeatable views, then we had a long walk round Tresco Island in the sunshine. A gentle wind kept us pleasantly cool as stunning vistas appeared round every corner. What a place!

By the time we got back to Old Grimsby (after ice creams at the New Inn in New Grimsby) Worm only needed sliding round and pushing slightly to get her in the water. The beach was a perfect camber for launching off and there were no waves. What a contrast to Lundy!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Travelling back to Padstow

The cheapest way to get back to Padstow for the next leg of the voyage was coach from Victoria Coach station to Bodmin, then local bus to Padstow. The best bus left Victoria at 8a.m, which mean leaving home just after six. As early starts go it was not too bad, but the coach then ran late due to traffic and it was 18:30before we reached Padstow.
Luckily our dinner reservation at Prawn On The Lawn was not until 21:00, so we had time to shop, and do a little prep work on Robinetta and Worm before eating.
We had thought about leaving Padstow on the first tide, (high water was at 04:30), but overnight thunderstorms and a force 7 in the forecast made us reconsider, and we slept in.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

AIS Installation

A short description of how I've installed the Matsutec HA-102 AIS transponder. This isn't meant to be a permanent installation - we think it's a good idea for crossing the channel but we've offered it to my work yacht club at the end of the season. If we think it's a good idea I might add a receive only RTL-SDR one or I might buy another Matsutec.
The two main challenges are the antenna and a display. We have a spare VHF antenna and for tests we have just run that up the shrouds. A proper solution is work-in-progress. The GPS antenna is a small magnetic one from Ebay. It works a treat. You can see it on the top left of the photo.

Another challenge is the main cable on the Matsutec. It is long and bulky and non-standard. It carries the 12V and two NMEA outputs, one for GPS and one for AIS. I've used it only for power and hidden it behind the plywood mount.

The RS232 port on the Matsutec is bidirectional and carries both the GPS and AIS so I'm using that.

The reason the display is a challenge is that our current cockpit chart plotter has only one NMEA input. The old one had two. So we need a multiplexer to combine AIS and depth. Also the AIS is high speed (38.4. kbit/s) and the depth is low speed (4.8 kbit/s) so we need a rate adapting multiplexer. I'm using kplex on a Raspberry Pi 3 at the moment.
So the Pi has three USB/Serial port adapters fitted. It should be four but there seems to be a dead USB port on my Pi. One goes to the AIS and one to the chart plotter. They are both set up to be high speed. The third is split. The input comes from the depth unit and the output goes to the DSC radio. Kplex sends either the chart plotter's GPS info or the AIS transponders GPS info to the DSC radio, whichever is turned on.

Here is the chart plotter showing AIS targets.

And here is it showing an AIS proximity alarm.

The Pi3 with USB/Serial adaptors is a really cheap and simple way to get a four port NMEA 0183 Multiplexer with wifi but it isn't necessarily a good way.

There are two reliability problems.

The first problem is that the Pi is driven from a micro SD card which has to be mounted read/write. This leave open the chance that the SD card could be corrupted on power-down. I'll think about this. It hasn't happened to me.

The second problem is more serious. The power-up sequence (on Raspian Stretch at least) more-or-less randomly associates physical and logical USB ports. So there is no way of knowing which port is which in the software. I've got a work around at the moment because the low speed depth and VHF port uses a different chip in the USB to serial dongle than the other two. I can detect this (using a udev rule) and give the low speed port and alias that kplex can see. So kplex sets that one to 4800 baud and the other two to 38400 baud and it knows which one to send the GPS out to.

But if I had four working ones I'd have a problem.

I'm working on a solution to that using different hardware.

Another problem with the Pi3 is that most of the cases you can buy have lots of holes in them. I don't want mildew growing on the Pi so I've brought it home with me. My alternative hardware solution will fix this too.

Monday, 7 May 2018


Getting to Padstow for the May Day celebration had been the goal of the trip and we made it with a day to spare.

Once we were moored up on the wall I went forward to put the jib in its bag and get the cover on the staysail. That was when I noticed something odd. The bobstay had vanished.

When I changed jibs on the trip from Lundy I had re-run the bob-stay tensioning line to run inside the jib traveller. Julian has no problems getting the jib to the end of the boom with the traveller trapped by the tensioner line, but I do, so I had to re-run it. Unfortunately I forgot to re tie the bowline that secured the end of the tensioner line to the pin rail.

When Julian got the bowsprit as we entered harbour the tensioner line ran just run out, letting the bobstay (which is chain) dangle beneath the boat, and the line run backward. Somehow, during all our manoeuvring in the harbour, we had managed NOT to get the line round the prop. It had gone round the rudder though, and the bobstay was held tightly along the keel.

With a lot of help and encouragement from Moshulu's crew (who were moored just ahead of us on the wall) Julian managed to get the rope and chain free, without needing to go in the water (although he had to sit in Worm using a hack saw on a rusted solid shackle). Success!

We had a wonderful time at Padstow. Being moored on the wall meant we had lots of friendly comments, and visitors, but we also had a lot of grit come off the road and onto the decks. It did not feel like a good place to leave her for a month.

We talked to the mooring master, and moved Robinetta onto the visitor pontoon in the middle of the harbour before we left. They use the "continental" mooring system at Padstow, with a line from the bow to a buoy, then backing down to moor stern first on the pontoon. Not something we have done before, but it seems to work well.